Identification. Moldova, covering about 32,500 square kilometers, was geographically the next to the smallest of the fifteen republics of the former USSR. In this article, "Moldavia," the former name of the republic, will be used when referring to the Soviet period.
Location. The present boundaries of landlocked Moldova run from the right bank of the Dniester River (its boundary with Ukraine) south to the Dniester estuary, then, following a jagged course, east to the Danube Delta and on to the Prut River (its boundary with Romania), northward to the Bukovina-Hertz region, then eastward again to the tall, sheer, and jutting cliffs of the Dniester's right bank. Thus, today's official boundaries do not include the historically Moldavian cities of Izmail, Kiliya (Chilia), and Belgorod-Dnestrovsky (Moncastro, Akkerman, Cetatea Alba), but Moldova does correspond fairly closely to the former Bessarabia minus strips on the north, south, and east. It contains the following regions: Baltzy (Baltsi) in the north, Kishinyov (Chisinau) in the center, Tiraspol in the southeast, and Kagul (Cahul) in the south. The capital is Kishinyov.
Moldova is an often hilly plain crisscrossed by many rivers, valleys, and ravines, interspersed occasionally by small wooded islands of oak, maple, and, sometimes, a birch gleaming on the edge of the Balti steppe (as far south as birch will grow). This northern steppe is bordered by a rolling and more level steppe farther south with, here and there, a Bulgarian, Gagauz, or old German village (the latter typically close to the meager water sources)—the so-called valley settlements. The more elevated region in the center of the country is called Codri, which in Romanian is the plural of one of the words for "forest," and this, in fact, used to be wild and impassible forest—the home of wolves, bears, and buffalo, and a good place for such heroes as the Haiducq (brigands, often of the Robin Hood type) and, subsequently, partisans. The southeast area in and around the Dniester estuary contains many small lakes, marshes, stagnant pools, channels, and abandoned streams that create not only excessive moisture but are a haven for large flocks of many kinds of birds. In each of these regions farmers and state farms have been clearing forests, draining swamps, diking, and irrigating to plant grapes, vegetables, or fruit trees.
In the country as a whole the sheepherding of earlier times has been replaced by the farming of wheat, maize, barley, tobacco, watermelons, musk melons, and sugar beets. There are many peach orchards, walnut groves, and vineyards; Moldavia produced about one-quarter of the wine of the former Soviet Union. Cattle raising for beef and dairy products is also widespread, as are beekeeping and silkworm breeding. Moldova has a humid and continental climate with hot summers, cold winters, and unpredictable amounts of precipitation (as much as 50 centimeters per year). In winter the Crivats, an easterly wind, brings low temperatures and blizzards.
Demography. According to the 1969 census, the population of Moldavia was 3.531 million and today it is about 4.3 million. With 105 people per square kilometer, the republic ranks eighth among the former Soviet republics in population density. A majority (more than 65 percent) are Romanian, with the other 35 percent consisting of Ukrainians, Russians (13 percent), Gagauz (about 200,000), Jews, Bulgarians, Gypsies, Greeks, Armenians, and Poles, among others.
Linguistic Affiliation. The language spoken in Moldova has local variations but is simply Romanian. Like the culture, it has undergone relatively strong Slavic influence with, for example, a higher frequency of words and expressions of Slavic origin—reflecting the proximity of Ukraine and the intermingling with Ukrainians—and more than 150 years of political and cultural exposure to Russia. Romanian belongs to the Italic Branch of the Indo-European Language Family; other Romanian dialects of eastern Europe include Aromanian, Meglenoromanian, Istroromanian, and Vlach (Voloh, Voloshan). Because of strong Slavic influence up to the second half of the nineteeth century, the official alphabet used in church and state documents was Cyrillic, not only in Moldavia, but also in Wallachia and Transylvania. The efforts of the Latin school of Transylvania and of outstanding Romanian intellectuals such as Hasdeu, Maiorescu, and Odobescu led to the introduction of the Latin alphabet, used until the Soviet occupation in 1940 when the Cyrillic alphabet was reimposed. Owing to popular demand, the Soviet Union in 1989 agreed to reintroduce the Latin alphabet and to recognize Romanian as the official language of the republic. Legislation was enacted giving non-Russians five years to learn the language. Some Russians and Ukrainians reacted vehemently against this; others started attending adult classes and sending their children to Romanian kindergartens.